April 7th, 1840, Frances writes to friends upon learning that they are expecting a child, "in the prospect of which I cordially rejoice, and that even on selfish grounds,—so few of my very dearest friends have little ones for me to love."
She wrote further, "I often regret that all my love of children is obliged to expend itself on the children of strangers." She is referring to the children in the infant schools she has started in various parts of England.
At the time of writing she is enjoying a new school in Kirk Ella while staying with the relatives who took her in as a child when her mother died. They have "built, endowed and entailed" the school for her, she says, and "therefore she is as happy as life in this world of sickness and of death permits."
Frances often mentioned her love of little ones. She suffered terribly when one of them died—and death to babies was frequent in those days. There is a chapter in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth titled "Loving and Losing Infants."
I do not know where the sculpture in this photo is located, but it well illustrates the topic of this blog.
170 years ago in early February, Frances Rolleston was heavily engaged in doing what she could to save lives in Ireland. Individuals in England were sending money, but it hardly made a dent among the millions starving.
Church congregations collected for their sister congregations in Ireland. Frances' plan was to feed clergymen first—the most devoted and the most distressed—and their families, and send enough—only shillings per week—to provide breakfast to the children in their church school. By feeding breakfast to the children, their mothers would be able to eat as well, and not die among their dying babes. Frances reported that several schools were now reviving.
Frances claimed to have documents that showed that the clergy and their families would be next to die. "One clergyman writes, 'My heart is broken, my daily meal is steeped in tears, I shall die.' His perishing school-children distressed him most.
Another, "sinking almost under his heavy burden; his son dying of consumption in his house, his parishioners of hunger at his door, his family engaged in making 'stir-about,' and handing it out to the famishing crowd."
The British government finally stepped in, but so late.
"Now that Government is sending food, I may say what I always knew, that the largest sum individuals can furnish is lost among the millions of the famished; they are fed today, to die to-morrow; but by supporting the clergy and the schools, something permanent is done."
This last sounds almost utilitarian, yet to save some is worthwhile, even while knowing others will perish.
Famine has never left the world. The earth is plenty large and fertile to feed everyone, but wars, corrupt government and ignorance contribute to poverty and famine.
On the first of November 1793, Lord George Gordon died in Newgate Prison, London. Frances Rolleston was twelve years old. Did she know or care? Her father probably did, and if her mother had still been living, she would have cared.
Thirteen years previous to this, Mrs. Rolleston's first child, Robert, was a babe in arms. He was very ill with "disease of the mesenteric glands." At that moment in London, Lord George Gordon was leading a large crowd to present a petition to Parliament. They wanted to repeal the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, which was an effort to relieve the longstanding repressive legislation against Catholics.
Gordon's crowd got out of hand and riots broke out. Much person property was destroyed, though no human life was lost, and Gordon was arrested. He was acquitted of responsibility for the riots and released, however, thirteen years later he died in Newgate Prison of typhoid fever where he was being held on other charges.
During the riots, many Londoners had to flee their homes, including Margaret Rolleston with baby Robert. The baby died in her arms. Then, only ten years later, Margaret herself died giving birth to her sixth child.
More about this event
The image of the silent ruins of the church at Newstead Abbey brings to mind how short life is. I think of George Gordon Lord Byron, his life lived vigorously, yet soon gone. His body lies in a small grave at Hucknall Church which stands on ground once owned partly by the Byron and partly by the Rolleston families.
One day Frances Rolleston visited Hucknall Church and had this to say afterwards:
"No one can venerate Sunday schools more than I do, but what I know of the tears and blows that now corrupt the institution, made me shrink from the hubbub that weekly invades Byron's sepulchre." She thought "hubbub" inappropriate for a gravesite.
Frances had already urged Colonel Wildman (owner of Newstead Abbey at that time) to bring Byron's coffin to the Mausoleum at Newstead, and after this visit to Hucknall Church, she was ready to urge him again.
Silence was a way of respecting the dead. Even knowing the soul was no longer present, this respect for the bodily remains continued. Much later in her life when a child she had a special relationship with died, Frances reported that she hardly ever passed his grave because "I have had an awfully materialistic feeling from the first, that my step would disturb him."
Frances Rolleston's own grave is very near little Lewie's. One hundred fifty-two years have passed since she was buried. She finished this life with complete faith that she would continue forever in the Lord's presence.
On this day in 1832, Sir Walter Scott, poet and novelist, passed from this life. Scott was famous for his poetry before trying his hand at novel writing. Since poetry was held in high regard, and novels considered to be of less importance, he endeavored (unsuccessfully) to keep his novels anonymous.
Scott wrote about historical traditions of the kind that appealed to Frances Rolleston. She considered herself an "Anglo-Saxon enthusiast." Ivanhoe, which portrayed the cruel Normans lording it over the Saxons, would certainly have pleased her. She recommended Scott's works as good reading for children.
So, although Frances feared, while still young, an old age of novel reading, she did later see value in novels.
7 September 1833, Hanna More, writer and social reformer, died. She was a woman who had two careers. Frances Rolleston was one of her many admirers.
Hannah's first career was as a writer, poet and playwright. Her play, Percy, was staged successfully by David Garrick. She was one of the Bluestockings, a group of literary intellectual women.
In her forties, Hannah became more serious in her outlook, and her writing reflected it. In association with William Wilberforce and Zachary Maccaulay, she became a strong opponent of the slave trade.
Through Wilberforce, Hannah was made aware of the desperate needs of the poor in the Mendip area, and by 1800 she had opened twelve schools there. This was her second career, and it was through this connection with the Clapham Sect that Frances Rolleston would have become acquainted with Hannah. Twenty-four years later Frances started her own first school.
In 1834, two years after Hannah's passing, William Roberts published the first two volumes of the four-volume Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More. This was followed by a one-volume Life by Henry Thompson, a good friend of Frances, and she wrote to him to say, "Every body will read your neat, polished, and condensed one volume, instead of the four,—valuable but unreadable memoirs." To her friend Irons she wrote, "Have you seen Henry Thompson's "Life of Hannah More?"—a capital hit, and raising her far above the impression left by the lengthy affair of Roberts."
Many years later, Frances told Henry Thompson that his Life of Hannah More should be reprinted. Such was the impression that Hannah More left on those who knew her.
Today in 1833 William Wilberforce died. He worked many years to have the British slave trade outlawed, finally seeing success in 1807, and then more years to end slavery itself. He died days after learning that that piece of legislation was sure to succeed.
Of course, Wilberforce did not do this singlehandedly. Frances Rolleston was one of those recruited into the cause in 1826 by "a deputation of influential Quakeresses" because, they told her, the gentlemen would not stir. The anti-slavery people were told that they could do nothing, that Parliament disregarded petitions. But the overwhelming number collected could not be disregarded.
Remember, they did not have the Internet or even the telephone. Every petition signer had to be contacted by letter or in person. In Sheffield alone, Frances reported, the ladies collected 17,000 men's signatures and 24,000 women's.
Each petition held 150 to 200 signatures. Frances was present when all the petitions were combined into one. The movie Amazing Grace (Bristol Bay Productions 2006 and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment 2007) has a climactic scene showing Wilberforce unrolling the combined petitions before Parliament. PG, worth watching.
On this day in 1834, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge died. Frances Rolleston mentioned Coleridge several times in her letters. We learn that when Frances bought that first volume of William Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner was included. She read the Rime constantly "with ever increasing delight," and thought it eclipsed all the ballads as poetry. This is significant, since it was Wordsworth who was ever her favorite poet.
In a later letter, Frances recommends Coleridge's "exquisite poem," Lesson to Fathers," to a young mother. This was in response to her young son's remark, "If he was not to have gunpowder, why did they give him a cannon?" Frances complimented the boy as "a great philosopher" and suggested the poem because it agreed with the old proverb, "never say A, if you don't mean to say B."
Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on Coleridge.
Between March 17 and 25, 1863, FR wrote several letters to her friend A. B. Wood, all of which focused on the death of friends and loved ones. The letters give a good view of how evangelical Christians view death. Here are a few excerpts:
"Think of the harmonies of heaven, which I believe our friend is hearing how, as the sound of a waterfall always there, always ready when the attention is called to it, accompanying the glorious vision and exquisite new words,--while our Lord in person will be there."
"O do not doubt it, do not think of her in the dark grave, the temporary hiding-place of the dissolving body, but there beyond that blue sky and brightening sunlight of spring."
"Death came by sin, and sadly we all feel it, not the sin of the individual but of the fallen race,--the redeemed race, of whom our blessed Lord took flesh, the flesh in and by which to suffer; wonderful mystery! but magnificent in its awfulness to us."
"How sweet are His [Christ's] recorded words to us! How increasingly sweet will be those we have yet to hear through a happy eternity; and your dear friend is now hearing them!"
"In her last illness she said with wonderful earnestness, 'Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly,' and, at that moment she was with Him. She seemed to pass through the gate of death, but it was life to her."
"They see Him as He is, oh far more glorious than our brightest imaginings; they will hear Him speak, and say higher and more glorious things than our weak earthly natures could endure or comprehend. To know more of Him will be our employment, we shall need no others; to 'see Him as He is' will sufficiently employ all our faculties."
November 22, 1963 the world grieved over the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy; the Christian world grieved over the death of Clive Staples Lewis.
November 22, 1863 the United States was in the deadly grip of the Civil War. In England, Frances Rolleston was finally shrugging off serious sickness.
What comfort was there for those grieving JFK's death? Could it be counted as anything other than a tragedy by all who loved him?
What comfort was there for those grieving CS Lewis's death? They had the assurance of enjoying eternity with him. "Therefore comfort one another with these words," Paul the Apostle wrote, following his description of the Lord's return.
Where did FR turn for comfort in her sickness?
She wrote to a friend, "I am daily better, in spite of the pouring rain all day, and stormy wind all night, which when I was worse I knew nothing of; nor, indeed, of any thing but the comforts of the Word of God, hourly sought in your most valuable large-print Testament,—do you remember it? Little did I think how valuable it would be on a bed of sickness."
For those like FR who are assured of the state of their souls, death or its near approach heightens awareness of the One who walks through the valley with them, and comforts those left behind.